In the Grand River watershed of northern Missouri and southern Iowa, spans the 10-year-old Grand River Grasslands Conservation Opportunity Area. On this approximately 70,000-acre area, the Missouri Department of Conservation is working with partners to recover a piece of Missouri’s native past by rebuilding the tallgrass prairie.
Rather than conserving and managing scattered islands of public land, the Grand River Grasslands represents a new perspective of doing conservation on a scale that can significantly improve the natural health of a whole ecosystem. It is one of 36 conservation opportunity areas for all wildlife on which the Department of Conservation and partner organizations in Missouri are focusing their efforts.
About 60 private landowners in the area participate in this project, in addition to the partnership of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy, the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation, the Missouri Grassland Coalition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Wildlife Program, Audubon Missouri and the Missouri Bird Conservation Initiative.
Iowa Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Chad Paup, who works in the Grand River Grasslands from the Iowa side of the border, puts it plainly, “They’re the key. If we can’t work with them [private landowners], we can’t get anything done.” Collaboration among the stakeholders defines this project, and they hope their efforts convince more and more landowners to participate in tallgrass prairie landscape-scale restoration.
“Much of this land has the potential for prairie restoration,” says Dave Hoover, a Missouri Department of Conservation wildlife management biologist and one of the managers of the project. He gestures to the land spreading out into the Grand River Grassland expanse as we drive on the eastern border of Dunn Ranch, The Nature Conservancy’s 4,000- acre portion of the Grand River Grasslands, one of the key components of the project. About two miles to the northwest of Dunn Ranch lies Pawnee Prairie, a 900-acre tract of mostly restored native prairie, portions of which are owned by the Department of Conservation and The Nature Conservancy.
“It’s a high ridge which runs into Iowa. It’s like 80 percent in grass of some sort already, with a number of remnant prairies in it,” says Randy Arndt, the Nature Conservancy’s Grand River Grasslands site manager, describing the layout of the project area, which is split roughly evenly by the Missouri/Iowa border. Although exotic grasses like fescue dominate acre upon acre of the land,